We all have stories. Some of them we wish we could erase, but they are part of who we are now. Owning every bit of your story allows you to be your true self. To own the hard times, you have to process them, learn from them, and let them become the past. Sometimes you can do this on your own. Sometimes you need help.
I needed help about 8 years ago. There wasn’t any specific occurrence that started it. I just suddenly couldn’t cope anymore…with anything. I couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t go one hour without crying. I wanted to cut everyone out of my life. There was no reason. No reason I could identify anyway.
It turns out I was fighting anxiety and depression. Through the process of therapy, I realized that I had been crushing down my emotions for years.
The first memory I have of this was the summer I turned 13. I was already 5’10” and barely over 100 pounds. Everybody has their reason the other kids made fun, this was mine. I was used to the stupid, “How’s the weather up there?” comments, but that summer everyone began calling me Yeti. Everyone including my best friends. Yeti…the abominable snowman…a monster. I felt like a monster, so I stopped going out of the house. Instead of the usual swimming in the lake, bike riding, and hanging out with the neighborhood, I sat inside and watched tv. No one called. No one came by to see if I was ok. But I shoved that all down. When I went back to school, I was all cheer on the outside and a little deader inside.
All of my energy went into being perfect on the outside. I got good grades. I followed all the rules. I played sports like a good tall girl. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past myself. When I made a mistake, I couldn’t get over it. I got angry and disappointed in myself. So I quit all of them my senior year.
Socially, I could fit in with nearly any group, but I never really belonged. I got really good at acting. The only place I consistently felt good about myself was in classes. I was almost always successful there.
I loved college. I was good at college. My path to become a speech-language pathologist required undergraduate and graduate degrees. I was cruising through my first few years, feeling pretty good then I entered my child development lab. The instructor told me I should never stand up around the kids or I would scare them. I am 6’1″. Tall for a woman, but not out of the realm of normal human being. This harassment continued throughout the semester. By the end of the class, which I passed with a B, I was positive that I could never work with children because I was a monster. I shoved that hurt down deep. (I later went back to give that instructor a piece of my mind, years into a successful pediatrics-focused career, but she was already retired.)
Through relationship problems, work challenges, and other life stresses, I shoved down emotions I didn’t want to feel. I put on the mask of happy, upbeat Sue. I wasn’t completely miserable. I had real moments of joy, fun, and feeling good, but when they were over, I just felt numb. I felt like if I wasn’t that person, no one would want to be around me. I had friends. I fit into groups, but I was never an essential member. Probably because I was never fully “there”. The mask just sits on the surface.
After years of numbing the feelings, they no longer could be pushed down. Whenever I sat still, every bit of sadness, hurt, and anger I ever should have felt came exploding back. So I kept moving. I would walk, run, hike, bike until I couldn’t any more. Then I would sleep. For a while I could keep it together at work because my mind would be busy with other things. After a while, I couldn’t even hold it together there.
I knew I needed help, so I asked for it. My physician’s assistant prescribed an antidepressant. I took it as prescribed, but it didn’t help. In fact, with every dose, I felt even worse. I stopped taking it (you’re not supposed to do that!) and made another appointment. The second antidepressant prescribed (one that works in a different way than the first) made the difference I needed. I wasn’t miraculously cured, but I was able to cope enough to function. And I finally told my husband what was happening. By then, I had moved into another room to sleep and had been pushing him away. In my mind, he deserved a better life and a better wife.
At this point, I began to see a therapist. Just “functioning” wasn’t enough. I wanted to live. I wanted to feel all of my feelings. I wanted to learn hope to cope and thrive. I wanted to be invested in my marriage. Several months of hard work and self-examination later I had the tools I needed move on with my life.
I am still on antidepressants and probably always will be. I own my mental illness story. I talk about it any time I can. Until I hit rock bottom and was having suicidal thoughts…serious ones, no one around me knew anything was wrong. I appeared happy, successful, “fine”. Many depressed people do. So I talk about my experience. I hope that it helps someone else ask for help when they need it. Own your story. Sometimes your life depends on it.
Because I got help, I now live at the Corner of Wild and Free. Hope you’ll join me.